Saturday, June 2, 2012

Kopi Talk While everybody was busy with Corona impeachment, legislators push anti-media bills

..By Ellen Tordesillas While the public, most especially media, was busy following the Corona impeachment trial, legislators were pushing measures that would undermine journalists' work of making government officials accountable, which senator-judges declared as the major accomplishment of the just-concluded political exercise. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines alerted the media community on three legislations: Sen. Edgardo Angara's Senate Bill 2965, An Act Protecting Individual Personal Information in Information and Communications Systems in the Government and the private sector; House Bill No. 5808, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012; and House Bill 5831 which proposes the amendment of Article 359 of R.A 3815, the Revised Penal Code. Angara's SB 2965 also seeks to create a national data protection commission. Section 30 (Breach of Confidentiality) of SB2965 provides: The penalty of imprisonment ranging from two years and four months to five years and a fine not less than P500,000 but not more than P2 million shall be imposed in case of a breach of confidentiality where such breach has resulted in the information being published or reported by media. In this case, the responsible reporter, writer, president, publisher, manager and editor-in-chief shall be liable under this Act." NUJP said the provision clearly intends to prevent journalists from performing their duties of delivering timely, relevant and accurate information to the public in the service of the people's right to know. "While we agree that the privacy of citizens should be protected, we are concerned that, especially in the wake of the historic impeachment trial of Renato Corona, those who live in mortal fear of transparency might twist this measure into providing more cover for the fortunes they have amassed through crime and corruption," NUJP said. This is deplorable after hearing senator after senator explain their vote to convict Corona as their commitment to transparency and accountability in public service. At the House of Representatives, House Bill No. 5808, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was passed on third and final reading. The bill seeks to define and penalize cybercrime offenses committed in the country, including a controversial provision that criminalizes online defamation. Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino said the bill seeks to widen the scope of libel as a criminal offense which he considers "a step backward in the ongoing fight of various media and free expression groups to totally decriminalize libel." He warned that some provisions of the bill could be prone to abuse and could be used to "censor online content or to harass critics of the government." "The bill, if passed into law … can be a weapon of abusive politicians and corrupt corporate bosses against netizens who wanted to expose the truth about their illegal activities," he added. There's also House Bill 5831, authored by Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco, which seeks to raise by 80 per cent the penalties for libel, slander and "intriguing against honor." Velasco, who chairs the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said that other than the raised fine, the bill also seeks to impose the penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period, depending on the nature of the violation. NUJP said those who would seek to silence the independent Philippine press apparently are not contented with the growing body count of murdered journalists and media workers, they still want to "erect a wall of silence and onerous penalties around the profession of truth-telling." NUJP finds it lamentable that " this has been taking place even as Congress continues to twiddle its thumbs on the Freedom of Information and the libel decriminalization bills and without the sector that would be most affected by these measures — the press — and, by extension, the public it serves being informed." NUJP demands that any and all attempt to enact legislation that will narrow the parameters of press freedom, of freedom of expression and of the people's right to know be immediately withdrawn or subjected to open and transparent amendments, with the full participation of all those who might be adversely affected by such measures. ..